Why were there celebrations and protests on Australia Day?

For many Australians, the national holiday means day-long festivities. But Aboriginal people call it "Invasion Day," as it marks the oppression of their ancestors. Now momentum is growing to change the date.

Photo by: Jacqueline Breen for ABC News
Photo by: Jacqueline Breen for ABC News

Thousands of people celebrated Australia Day on January 26 amid growing calls to change the date.

What is Australia Day?

It is the national day of celebration held on January 26 every year. This marks the anniversary of the arrival of 11 convict ships from Great Britain to Sydney, named First Fleet, led by commander Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788.

Many Australians celebrate the day off work by having lunches and picnics with family. Others have BBQs in their backyards with friends and proudly fly the flag.

There are also citizenship ceremonies held across the country, where people are sworn in as Australians.  

Why is it seen as Invasion Day by Aboriginal people?

The date marks the beginning of British colonisation of Aboriginal people in 1788. Aboriginal Australians, known as the "first Australians," are the oldest known civilisation on Earth. 

Aboriginal people call it, alternately, Invasion Day, Survival Day and Day of Mourning.

Many believe celebrating on January 26 is insensitive and offensive. They say Australia's brutal history - which saw mass killings, dispossession, rape and violence against Aboriginal people, as well as separation of their families - should be mourned not celebrated.

More than 70 percent of Aboriginal people were killed by warfare and disease within the first two years of the British settlement. 

On January 26, tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against the celebration in rallies held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The majority were peaceful but there were some clashes with police.

How do Aboriginal people feel?

Allan Clarke, Indigenous affairs reporter at BuzzFeed Australia, told TRT World it's insulting when white Australians ignore the injustices against Aboriginal people.

"People say why don’t you just get over it, why don’t you just enjoy the day like everyone else, we can't," Clarke said.

"It’s not ancient history, it’s just literally over 200 years ago, it’s not that long, it’s only a few generations back."

Ken Canning, one of the organisers of the Invasion Day rally, told news.com.au he is shocked that people choose to celebrate genocide.

“We’ve got to start looking at what is right or wrong in this country and it’s totally wrong to celebrate the massacres of our people.”

Will the date be changed?
 
Possibly. There are growing calls for the date to be changed to better reflect the sensitivities of Aboriginal Australians. Thousands joined the #changethedate campaign on Twitter, expressing their disapproval of the current date. 
 
However the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told The Project that he would not consider a change
 
"I know there are people who argue for the change, the overwhelming majority of Australians including me believe the 26th of January is the day and should always remain the day," he said.

"The date itself is much less important than what you do on Australia Day and what you say," Turnbull added.

Clarke told TRT World it's unacceptable.

"I, like many Aboriginal people, want to celebrate Australia Day, want to unify as a country," Clarke said.

"We want to have a date where we can all celebrate Australia but January 26 is not it and it kind of glosses over some of those horrific historical injustices that my people have had to endure."

In a controversial move that has divided many, Fremantle council in the state of Western Australia cancelled its Australia Day festivities to respect Aboriginal sensitivities. The council will hold a "culturally inclusive" celebration two days after January 26. ​

Author: Mohamed Taha

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies